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A guide to the most watchable starting rotations: AL East

Which teams in the AL East have the pitching staffs that are the most enjoyable to watch?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is part two of a series to find the most watchable rotations in baseball. The NL East can be found here. Here is a reminder of the methodology:

Age — 1 point if the pitcher was born between 1988 and 1990; 2 points, 1991-1993; 3 points, 1994 and beyond.

Effectiveness — 1 point if Steamer projects the pitcher for an ERA between 3.40 and 3.75 in 2016; 2 points, 3.00-3.39; 3 points, 2.99 or lower.

Velocity — 1 point if the pitcher's average fastball velocity in 2015, by FanGraphs' "pitch type", was 91.5-93.0 MPH; 2 points, 93.1-94.5 MPH; 3 points, 94.6+ MPH.

Strikeout rate — 1 point if the pitcher's 2015 K% was between 20.0 and 23.0 percent; 2 points, 23.1-26.0 percent; 3 points, 26.1 percent+.

Breaking ball usage — 1 point if, using FanGraphs' "pitch type", the pitcher's curveball usage plus slider usage is between 25.0 and 30.0 percent; 2 points, 30.1-35.0 percent; 3 points, 35.1 percent+.

Toronto Blue Jays:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Marcus Stroman 2 1 2* 1* 0* 6
R.A. Dickey 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marco Estrada 0 0 0 0 0 0
J.A. Happ 0 0 1 1 0 2
Drew Hutchison 1 0 1 0 0 2

*using Stroman's 2014 numbers

By the numbers, this is a pitifully unwatchable rotation. They're old, they're not particularly good, and they don't strike out hitters or throw a ton of wicked benders. Although I haven't yet run the numbers on every division, there is a good chance that this rotation ranks as the most boring staff in baseball.

However, some of the data here is misleading. The main player in question is also the ace — Marcus Stroman. Despite standing at just 5'9'', he possesses great stuff and is undeniably a joy to watch. Stroman had a major knee injury last season that knocked him out for most of the season, and when he came back, he produced worse peripherals and velocity than in his rookie campaign. Whether that was due to small sample size, rust, or lingering effects of the injury, Steamer took that into account in projecting his 2016 numbers; it's definitely possible that Stroman posts an ERA lower than 3.40, which would move him up in the "effectiveness" bracket. Don't forget that Stroman had an elite 2.84 FIP/3.17 xFIP in 2014 as a rookie. His K% also has large upside for growth, as he posted gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors (career 10.8 K/9).

Lastly, there is a subjectivity to the "breaking ball usage" category. Throughout this process, I haven't counted cutters as breaking balls because they're an offset of the fastball. However, Stroman throws a cutter, slider, and curve, all with significant regularity, and they are all the same breaking ball on which he imparts a different variant of break and velocity. If I counted the cutter as a breaking ball for Stroman, then his breaking ball usage immediately jumps to a 3. In other words, I can argue that Stroman's total watchability score could be as high as 10 or 11.

Another misleading point in the data is J.A. Happ. He has been a largely unwatchable pitcher in his career, but he became a different guy with Pittsburgh. Pirate Happ represents a watchability score of 7, and it'll be interesting to see if he can carry those changes over to 2016.

Also, this rotation would have a much different look if flamethrower Aaron Sanchez earns a spot. Sanchez would represent a watchability score of 5, and that could take a step forward too if he becomes more effective and/or increases his strikeout rate. He has arguably the most dynamic sinker in baseball this side of Zach Britton, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sanchez earn a starting spot with the Jays and make it a much more enjoyable rotation to watch.

Baltimore Orioles:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Chris Tillman 1 0 1 0 0 2
Yovani Gallardo 0 0 0 0 3 3
Ubaldo Jimenez 0 0 0 1 0 1
Miguel Gonzalez 0 0 0 0 1 1
Kevin Gausman 2 0 3 1 0 6

This rotation doesn't grade out that well in the fun-to-watch department because, well, they're not very good. None of the pitchers are projected by Steamer to finish with an ERA of below 3.75. Out of the top four starters, Chris Tillman is the only one standing in the way of a skunk in both the age and the velocity departments, and he just made the cutoff by four months and 0.0 MPH.

Kevin Gausman is a completely different animal, though. He rates as the most watchable of the Orioles' starters by far. While I don't usually enjoy changeups as much as breaking balls, Gausman's split-change is so nasty that he got snubbed by my methodology.

Dylan Bundy is a wild card here. Both his health and the return of his stuff are major question marks, and there is a good chance he doesn't make a single start this year. If he does, though, I will be sure to tune in.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Chris Archer 1 2 3 3 3 12
Jake Odorizzi 1 1 0 1 0 3
Drew Smyly 1 2 0 3 3* 9
Matt Moore 1 0 1 0 0 2
Erasmo Ramirez 1 0 0 0 0 1

*There is a disagreement on whether Smyly's cutter/slider is a cutter or a slider, but I'm counting it as a slider, especially since there is a 7.2-MPH difference between it and his fastball.

This is a very interesting team to watch, led by ace Chris Archer. He has everything you want in a pitcher — run prevention, fastball velocity, filthy slider, and tons of swings-and-misses. Drew Smyly is a prime example that a pitcher doesn't have to throw hard to be exciting. There is plenty more beyond that, though. The Rays seem to be a pitching factory, churning out young, successful pitcher after pitcher. Even after trading David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Nate Karns in recent years, Tampa Bay still has five capable pitchers to fill out their rotation, all of whom will be 28 years of age or younger for the entirety of the 2016 season. Alex Colome is another viable option, and Alex Cobb should return from his injury sometime in the middle of the season as well.

This is without mentioning the Rays' wealth of minor league pitching. Top prospect Blake Snell will be ready for the Show at some point this season, and he will undoubtedly rate very well in the fun-to-watch criteria. Promising youngsters Taylor Guerrieri and Jacob Faria could be MLB-ready sometime in 2016, too. Translation: this system is loaded with exciting pitching.

Boston Red Sox:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
David Price 0 3 2 2 0 7
Clay Buchholz 0 1 1 1 3* 6
Rick Porcello 1 0 0 1 0 2
Eduardo Rodriguez 2 0 2 0 0 4
Joe Kelly 1 0 3 0 0 4

*Pitch classifications have wavered between calling Buchholz's hard breaking ball a cutter or a slider, depending on the season, but I'm counting it as a slider.

Despite the fatigue of watching the same pitcher over and over again, year after year, and despite the fact that much of this pitcher's recent success is due to his newfound pinpoint control, David Price is still one of the more enjoyable hurlers to watch. Clay Buchholz, when healthy, has always been one of my favorite pitchers to watch, as well, and I'm glad that he showed up decently well in my methodology.

The other pitchers don't really pique my interest in terms of watchability. E-Rod is kind of interesting as a young pitcher, but if you've watched him pitch before, his delivery isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, and all of his pitches seem to blend together. It's a shame that Anderson Espinoza won't be ready for another couple of years. I'm already salivating.

New York Yankees:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Masahiro Tanaka 1 2 1 1 1 6
Michael Pineda 1 2 1 2 2 8
Nate Eovaldi 1 0 3 0 2 6
Luis Severino 3 0 3 1 2 8
CC Sabathia 0 0 0 0 0 0

Every pitcher in this rotation, minus Sabathia, is enjoyable to watch. Tanaka is particularly interesting, in that he throws his primary fastball, which combines both the four-seam and two-seam, less than a third of the time. If you enjoy watching a pitcher who mixes up his pitches, Tanaka is your guy. You have to pay attention closely, though; Tanaka's pitches — like those of Eduardo Rodriguez — tend to run together. Other than his 77-MPH curve, which he throws less than 10% of the time, all of his pitches look relatively similar and are in a similar velocity band.

Severino is worth talking about as well. He has had success everywhere he's gone, including the majors, yet Steamer doesn't seem to like him, projecting a pedestrian 3.82 ERA. While a lot of that probably has to do with the obscene amount of homers Severino gave up in his debut, he never had a gopherball problem in the minors, and he still maintained a sub-3.00 ERA last season despite the home runs.

Personally, I think Ivan Nova has much better stuff than Sabathia and is consequently much more fun to watch. Of course, that stuff is the reason that Nova plays better out of the bullpen and is probably going to lose the fifth spot to Sabathia. Nova might not grade out well in my methodology, because of his consistently mediocre results and middling strikeout rate, but his curve is one of the best in the majors. His fastball is also underrated, touching the mid-90s with good sinking action.


The final scores for each of the rotations:

Yankees — 28

Rays — 27

Red Sox — 23

Orioles — 13

Blue Jays — 10

Overall, there don't seem to be as many exciting pitchers in the AL East as in the NL East. The Yankees and Rays seem to be the rotations with the most watchable starters, unless you happen to be tuning into a David Price, Kevin Gausman, or Marcus Stroman start.

Next time we will take a look at the rotations in the NL Central.

. . .

Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.